HALLIE EPHRON: Every once in a while I have to pinch myself. It still surprises myself the great places I've ended up going and the great people I've gotten to know because (now) I'm a writer!
So here I am this weekend teaching at an intimate (20 attendees) Writers Digest weekend retreat in gorgeous Scituate Massachusetts. Working with me is the talented literary agent and author Paula Munier and Writers Digest Books publisher Phil Sexton.
Tough life: we're here in a lovely inn on Scituate Harbour.
There's some of us getting ready to talk about opening pages and synopses. This retreat started on Thursday and it will end midday Sunday, and I'm so impressed by the writers, their writing, and how deeply they are engaged in thinking about each other's work. And that the writers here have been revising (with no one holding a gun to their heads!)
Every time I teach, especially when it's intensive and involves people reworking their manuscripts, I learn something or hear something special. Here are some of the takeaways for me so far for this weekend:
- One writer, talking about how much she realizes she has yet to do on her manuscript and yet feeling energized: It's not perfect but I'm getting over it.
- Epiphany about memoir writing and why it's so hard to make an ordinary life story compelling: In a memoir you do NOT have to relate exactly what happened (it's okay to lie and make things up), but you do must write the emotional truth about what happened.
- Our common frames of reference are not books but TV shows and movies. Total Recall. Rocky. True Detective. The Wizard of Oz. CSI. Scandal. The Good Wife. These are just a few of the ones that came up when talking about the plots.
- Surprising to find that the weakest aspect of many manuscripts is setting! Not enough of a sense of the specifics of the places where scenes are set.
- It always impresses me: how deeply felt and personal works of fiction are for the author, and what a huge leap of faith it is to show it to others and open oneself up for criticism.
- Greatest pleasure: hearing that a foursome of writers who'd never before met were going to start a writing group, connecting halfway across the country. That's why you come to workshops, to find writers with whom you trust to share the pains and pleasures of making the writing better.
Ending with a quick pitch for a terrific upcoming writers' conference, great big and beautiful and in Portland Oregon... really strong on fiction writing and also a terrific screenwriting/pitching component. Willamette Writers in August! I'll be teaching 3 workshops ...
Have you been to a writing retreat or writing conference? Did or didn't it help you make that big leap forward in your writing?